Child abuse in football: I count myself fortunate

I’m gobsmacked about the child abuse allegations in football. With computers now, you hear about paedophiles, but football? If anything had happened to me, I’d have spoken to my manager and my Mum. I was quite an aggressive kid, I’d have said something. I’m amazed that it was going on, even then. It’s come more to people’s knowledge now, with the internet. I couldn’t imagine it happening to me.

I’m amazed it’s taken so long for it to come out. We got coached and trained hard and worked hard. I’ve never heard anything. All the coaches were good and polite. I find it quite unreal. I’ve not heard of any Palace players involved from the past, from the reports in recent weeks. Most players my age, I‘d have thought nothing had happened. I count myself fortunate.

But it can happen in all walks of life. There’ll be many kids out there being sexually abused. The FA has to make sure that coaches are well interviewed, their family looked into. The interviews have to be much stricter. It has to be clear that sentences have to be stronger. There has to be warnings that if you’re caught, you are in deep trouble. Parents now will be thinking “I’d better go to training”. “What’s happening in the showers after training?” It’s pretty scary. It’s a big situation. We have to get our house in order, here in England.

With England on the pitch, Gareth Southgate’s done well in his four games and the FA have gone about things the right way. Now, if players aren’t turning up or aren’t bothered, they should not get picked anymore. “Get the taxi home”. Regarding drinking, if it’s a few drinks after a game it’s not so bad. When I was first in the England senior squad, I didn’t drink. We’d meet up on a Sunday night, with Ron Greenwood and he’d let us go off down the pub for a team talk. I didn’t drink then. I was the driver. I was drinking orange and lemonade. The following day, the papers would say I’d had eight pints!

If Gareth can get 90% out of the youngsters – and the senior players, help to get the best of them – he’ll do very well. Fabregas had great players around him when he started at Arsenal and he became great himself in two years. If Gareth can get the best out of that group of youngsters, we can do very well. It’s about individuals first: do your job. Then you can pass your intelligence around you. If you all do your job, then you’ve got a chance. He’s worked with the young players in this squad, I think he’s got a good chance. The one thing he’s got to do after every match is tell the truth. Be honest. If you go round the houses and pass off a poor performance, everyone can see through it.

At Man Utd, something has gone wrong with Mourinho. Only his family might know. Something is missing. When Wenger came to Arsenal, he’d be on the pitch at the end and hug his players. Mourinho at Chelsea, did the same. But if players aren’t happy, you can’t win anything. The Utd dressing room doesn’t sound healthy. They have some great players in that team. You’d think “Let’s attack teams”. There’s something definitely going wrong there. It might take someone coming out and saying it. At the end of the day, especially for most of the top players, they want to win. One might come out and say it as it is, either themselves or through a source.

I’ve heard rumours that if a manager has a go at one player, he tells his teammates and they turn against the manager. Players have power. I know one story with Stuart Pearce, when he was at Man City. A player of his had dived and Pearce agreed so, in a radio interview. The player later came to see Pearce and told him that he should’ve stood up for him. It turned out that the City fans backed the player on it, not Pearce. In football, the power is with the player. It used be Chairman, Manager, Player. Now it’s Player, Owner, Manager.

I can’t believe that Palace are going through runs of defeats and then runs of wins. When players start winning, they get confident. When players aren’t confident, they don’t always want the ball. I’ve seen Palace a few times this season and the closing down is first-class, but we’re soon giving the ball away. Puncheon has gone back up a couple of steps, he’s getting more involved. There is improvement there.

I know Pardew is working hard with the players on the training pitch. He’s invited me down to the training ground, to watch training and have some lunch together. I have some ideas and we’ll have a chat. There’s a few things I’d like to mention, in a nice football way. I’m very confident that Palace will turn it around and get wins against some of the teams around them. Home wins, Alan will plan around them. They’re certainly getting crosses in. I like Wickham and I’d like Palace to play two up front and encourage their teammates to get the ball into the box.

Arsenal are out of the League Cup and that’s a shame. When I was the captain and we won the League Cup in 1987, we’d gone without a trophy for eight years. To beat Liverpool was great. I understand the need to play youngsters, but eight changes? Tiredness for me is a load of rubbish. I’m told the players are fitter these days. Frank McLintock would play 60 matches a season, on muddy pitches. Modern players play on carpets. When you see Hull and Southampton in the semi-finals, if Arsenal had played a full side we could have been there too. When you make major changes, it’s not good for the fans. They want to see youngsters come through, but when you are in the quarter-finals you want to win the cup.

Generally though, Arsenal move the ball so quickly. Walcott has stepped up, no doubt. Giroud should play every game. Get in the crosses. We need to spot the small things, to help us get wins. Not just a plan B, but a plan C too. Play against the reserves and work on things like how do we come back from 2-0 down, get a shape. I think Arsenal have a chance to win the league this season. Teams are dropping points and it looks like a very open season. If a team can go eight games winning, they can win it.

Personally, I’m in the best place I’ve been in for some time. I’m being positive. I’m doing an interview with ITN next week. I want to work. I want to tell my story, I think it’s interesting. Presentations with ex-players, dinners, lunches, golf days, that sort of thing. The better the shot, the better the joke! It’s ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’. There was a lot of good – playing as a schoolboy, being at Palace, joining a big club like Arsenal and then England. Drinking took over from my football and that was the bad. The ugly took over my whole life. I lost my life and had time sleeping on the streets. That’s the ugly side of it, from where I was at, at 15. The gap between the good and the ugly is not very nice.

All my stories are true and honest, because I was at them all! I was there! I honestly feel that I do not want to get drunk ever again. I can be funny sober. I have to take one day at a time but I know that if I am working regularly it will help to keep me in a good place. I write things in a pad, to help to keep myself positive, small things that help me. I’d like a write a diary and maybe turn it into a book. I do Palace home games and I’m doing a radio show this weekend with Stan Collymore. I’m enjoying telling people about my football career. I’d like to write my story, in my words.